Twelve years ago, a catchy New Wave anthem appeared on the internet with no information about who wrote or recorded it. Amateur detectives have spent thousands of hours since trying to figure out where it came from — with little luck. Inside the question that’s been driving the internet crazy for years

Illustration by Kyle Rice

With its rigid beat and dry, monotone vocals, the song sounds like a synth-pop hit you would have heard in a dance club in the Eighties. (Or at least on an Eighties Spotify station.) Close your eyes and you can imagine a music video: awkwardly lip-synching musicians, exploding lightbulbs, foggy streets. It’s familiar. But the name of the artist or band doesn’t come to mind.

That’s because, right now, no one knows anything about it: who wrote it, who sang it, or even when it came out. And for about a dozen years, a dedicated gaggle of music obsessives from around the world has been searching for any information about these three minutes of music. Throughout this quest, which intensified this summer, thousands of man-hours have been devoted to unearthing anything at all about what these zealous investigators are calling “the most mysterious song on the Internet.”

The hunt embodies every conversation anyone has ever had with a devoted music nerd happy to share every morsel of information about an obscure song — in this case, one supposedly taped off European radio about 35 years ago. It’s the story of people longing for community in the digital era. But it’s also become something bigger. “Everything about this song is mysterious, from the creation to the lyrics to where it played on the radio,” says amateur song detective “Mkll,” who prefers to be identified only by his internet handle. “It’s not often that songs of this age are dug up, and the fact that a search has been happening for over a decade on the Internet really made this case unique.” Even if the case is never solved, it has briefly returned the pre-Google mystique to music, set to a Sprockets-appropriate beat.